Opinion: Teacher assistants are key to fair and equitable learning

Teacher's aides are common in secondary schools, often assisting individual students.

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Teacher’s aides are common in secondary schools, often assisting individual students.

Anthony Edwards and Tayla Steele are Taranaki High School students and members of Taranaki Youth Voices.

OPINION: Recently, it has come to our attention that students of all ages and abilities are affected by the fact that our schools are under-resourced for teacher assistants.

Teacher assistants are essential to the school’s education system and the government did not help by increasing teacher assistant salaries, in fact, they made the situation worse.

The problem is not with underpaid teacher assistants, the problem is with the lack of funding allocated to hiring teacher assistants.

From what we understand, the government has made schools pay more for teacher assistants, but has not increased school budgets for these changes.

* Parents pay for teacher’s aides under the “common” table, despite it being illegal
* Boy’s teacher’s aide is cut after parents say they can’t fund him
* Elementary students lose out due to underfunding, understaffing, teachers say

The result being that fewer teaching assistants are hired by schools, or that they divert money from another sector of education, the opposite of what was supposed to happen.

We interviewed Anna Zsigovits-Mase, a member of the leadership team at one of our secondary schools who expressed; “We have 4-5 teaching assistants, there just isn’t enough for everyone, we have almost a thousand students here… In our school, we don’t have enough funds to pay another raise for teaching assistants, not to mention hire a new one.”

However, the problem does not start or end in one school. Schools across New Zealand are suffering from the same situation.

“Other local schools I know are also under the same pressure, as well as primary schools, which have such early learning needs and need extra support. Some students will hurt others if they are not not supported.

The number of teaching assistants in our schools has a huge impact on students’ equitable right to access education.

Students of all ages have at least one classmate who has a learning disability these days and so it is unfair that these students, therefore, have fewer opportunities than their classmates.

A student who suffers from dyslexia or dyspraxia is entitled to the additional assistance of a reader-writer to support them and help them focus on their potential, this is provided by a teacher’s aide.

Teacher’s aides are there for the teacher to use in the classroom, but they tend to be assigned to a student or a group of students due to their low numbers.

An invaluable service that people often don’t have the patience or empathy for.

The vice principal was also interviewed and brought up the fact that assigning and implementing teacher assistants for everyone is difficult and requires a lot of administration, effort that shouldn’t be necessary.

“It is hard and difficult to find when a school is limited in the number of teaching assistants, to meet all the needs of the students. Schools must receive the funding and should have the right to use that funding to access teacher assistant support for each school that needs it.

Although we do not fully understand the administration of the political and financial systems involved with teacher assistants, we do know that teacher assistants, despite what their job seems to be, are invaluable in any school.

Secondary education is the time when we undergo major psychological and academic development.

The way students are supported during this crucial period of development prepares us for a lifetime.

Regardless of our backgrounds and abilities, all students deserve an education system that allows us to reach our potential.

You can help us by writing letters to our schools and MPs to point out this inequity.

Anthony Edwards and Tayla Steele are Taranaki High School students and members of Voices of Taranaki Youth.

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